HALIFAX – The Nova Scotia government says it is poised to help black residents who have struggled for decades to gain clear title to land that has been in their families since many arrived as Loyalists in the 1800s.
African Nova Scotian Affairs Minister Tony Ince issued a statement Monday saying an announcement for “new supports” will be made Wednesday in Cherry Brook, a predominantly African Canadian community east of Halifax.
“We have made a commitment to deal with these systemic issues … to ensure that we don’t repeat what has gone on in the past,” Ince said in an interview.
He declined to release any details about the government’s plan.
In the 1800s, the Nova Scotia government provided land to black and white Loyalists, but the Crown didn’t present land titles for black settlers, creating long-standing confusion over ownership in 13 predominantly black communities.
The province’s announcement came the same day an expert panel presented a report on anti-black racism in Canada to the UN Human Rights Council, saying the specific challenges facing African Nova Scotians had to be dealt with.
The UN experts said they were particularly concerned with the province’s failure to properly implement the Land Titles Clarification Act of 1963, which was introduced to help people of African descent get title to land that had been given to their families long ago.
The act was supposed to provide a simple and inexpensive method for clarifying land titles, but Nova Scotia residents told the panel that the process had become expensive, unjust and discriminatory, resulting in many rejected claims. Funding for the program had also dried up over the years.
“Residents must bear the burden for submitting all the documentation, as well as the application, lawyer and surveyor fees necessary to have the land title clarified,” the report said.
“(The) Department of Natural Resources … acknowledged that the process was unclear and stated they were attempting to pilot a project to assist residents in the community to obtain the title to their property … The working group emphasized that the act must be implemented in collaboration with, and for the benefit of, the affected population group.”
Ince said he couldn’t explain why it has taken so long for the province to fix the problem.
“I can’t speak to what other governments did,” he said. “From the African Canadian community (point of view), it’s not a surprise. Those are issues that we live and deal with on a daily basis.”
The CEO of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, Christine Hanson, said she was pleased to learn the government is taking a new approach.
“It’s a real bright spot in Nova Scotia to see that there’s political will to take action on a pretty significant recommendation from the UN working group,” Hanson said in an interview.
Michelle Williams, a law professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said the UN report and the government’s decision to clarify the title process were welcome signs of progress for a file that had sat dormant for too long.
“It’s an ongoing problem that should have been resolved long before this,” said Williams, director of the Indigenous Blacks and Mi’kmaq Initiative at the Schulich School of Law. “It’s had a long-term impact on our ability to grow and be healthy.”
Williams said the province’s Liberal government should appoint a commission with judicial authority to resolve all claims. As well, it should have access to enough resources to hire lawyers, surveyors and community outreach workers, she said.